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Exclusive: Co-Founder, Gauthier says Perlego is the Netflix for textbooks

Shirly McCoy



Perlego's New Look

In our previous newsletter, we wrote about how the perception of “raising money” and actually “building a company” are two extremes of the startup spectrum. Although many are successful in the first part, many more fail in the second.

Today, we speak to Perlego, a technology company that actually built its product from the ground up and struggled with “smallest problems” like hiring to finally build a company that raised $9 Million Series A for its textbook subscription service.

Education has long been a space that has evolved from the 1600s, right from religious indoctrination to physics and gravity in the 19th century. For mankind to evolve, knowledge, information and data need to be accessed faster and cheaper. Perlego has been the catalyst in the huge education industry for this growth in the UK to merge the ease of knowledge via textbooks right to your screen.

Perlego solves the two-prong problem: The ever-increasing cost of textbooks for students and the decreasing profitability for publishers with students opting for second-hand books rather than new ones.

Gauthier Van Malderen, Co-founder, Perlego talks to The CEO Desk and tells us a little about his story below.

How long have you been working on Perlego? How did you get the idea?

My Co-Founder, Matt Davis, and I started Perlego in 2017, but I really had the idea for it while I was still at University. I was using Netflix for films, Spotify for music and thought, surely this could work for textbooks? I was spending lots of money on textbooks I’d only use once and would have to carry around everywhere with me. The idea of affordable, accessible textbooks for students just made more sense.


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What are the struggles while building your business which no one knows about?

Probably hiring the right people. When you start to build a business, it’s a very personal thing, and you become very protective of it. Trying to make sure the people on your team are as passionate and driven about what we’re doing as we are, is a challenge. But when you get it right, it makes all the difference.

Perlego's Team

Perlego’s Team

I couldn’t find any data on how many users you have already acquired?

It’s in the thousands. Not only do we have University students, but we also have a B2B side of the business, meaning a lot of our customers are corporations, such as Airbnb, and Tomato Talent, who use Perlego for their employees.

How did you acquire your first subscriber?

Word of mouth!

Would you do anything differently if you had to start over? If yes, why? If no, why?

In the beginning, we were hesitant to hire a full-time designer because we were cautious of the cost – so we used freelancers. What we soon learned, is that when you’re building a global company, the design should be just as important as the engineering of the product. I would definitely hire a full-time head of design earlier.

What is your vision for Perlego? Where do you want to be 3 years down the line and 5 years down the line?

The end goals for Perlego are to make sure everyone has affordable access to education and also building an entire smarter-learning platform. 3 years down the line, we want to have established ourselves in the U.S, and hopefully 5 or so years down the line, globally.

Shirly has worked with multiple news publications writing about businesses, startups, CEOs and understanding the working of companies that are doing revenues upwards of $1 billion to companies that have revenues below $ 1 million. She is an avid reader and has interviewed some of the biggest personalities from various walks of life.

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Exclusive: How Apteo makes it easy for anyone to consume data and not just lab coats

Shirly McCoy



Apteo Office

In our first newsletter this month, we spoke about how data and management of data was the most important asset any company could have. The companies that value, assess and organize data intelligently will be rewarded 10x more times than companies that just aggregate data.

Major corporations to even smaller companies that we have interviewed in growing economies rely on an extensive workforce to source, clean and manage data manually. The cash burn-to-reward ratio is skewed with the cheaper labor available in many such demographics. In fact, companies that are based out of developed countries find themselves outsourcing data-related tasks to countries like India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, etc.

Companies and founders that lack the vision to automate and scale redundant processes often find themselves in a stagnated position for years together. The importance of data for any company has never been more important.

In our interview today with Apteo’s Shanif Dhanani, we explore how Apteo elevates “data” by simplifying it for the commoners and not just making it information that only Data Scientists can consume.

How long have you been working on Apteo? How did you get the idea?

We first incorporated Apteo in November 2017, but our original idea was slightly different from what we’re doing today. At that time, I was just coming off of a job at Twitter as a data scientist, and my co-founder was coming out of gardening leave at a large hedge fund.

We both were very interested in the ability for technology to improve investing, he was doing it professionally and I had been trading stocks and options with my own money for several years. When we first started working together, I was trying to use some of the machine learning techniques that were reaching maturity at the time to improve my own investing.

When we met each other via a mutual friend, we started working together organically to see if we could apply those techniques to investing in a more systematic manner.

We created the company around that idea. We then built up an A.I. engine that could incorporate large amounts of disparate data (everything from news articles to analyst opinions to company financials to alternative data) to analyze stocks and then built a B2C website around that engine.

As we started to sell some of the data that was coming out of the A.I. engine, we met with, and interviewed, hundreds of finance professionals, and quickly realized they had a much bigger problem. Everyone was trying to use data to improve their existing workflow and work processes, but they were having trouble finding relevant data, managing it in an effective manner, and analyzing it in a way that made business sense to them.

We realized that we had already solved a lot of these problems for ourselves, and we decided to pivot the company full throttle into building a platform that could solve these problems for them.

Apteo Office

Apteo Office

What are the struggles while building your business which no one knows about?

We’ve certainly had a winding road. I’d boil down the biggest struggles into two categories:

  1. Managing the challenges in my personal life so that they don’t negatively affect the business
  2. Overcoming a series of unforeseen obstacles in our company’s evolution

With respect to the first point, I’ve actually had to deal with several deaths in my close network. Some of them hit really hard and being able to maintain focus while dealing with that was a major obstacle. In addition, I’ve had to put in the effort to make sure I manage the anxiety that comes with the job, continue to eat healthily and work out, and spend enough time with people outside of work to recharge.

Within the business itself, though, we’ve had several struggles. There are the obvious ones, that may not be surprising – that includes trying to figure out what product to build, pivoting a couple of times, and figuring out how to raise funding. But there are also a few hidden ones – we lost a co-founder earlier this year due to money issues, that was tough, especially since I thought of him as a friend. We’ve had a few internal issues that have caused some major disagreements and arguments.

The Apteo powerhouse

The Apteo powerhouse (From left: Moeez Syed, Shanif Dhanani and Manan Shah)

We did get through those and are better for it now, but they were very trying. And we’ve had to deal with some major lows in the company, things that almost caused us to pause what we’re doing and re-evaluate if we wanted to continue on. Again, we’ve gotten through a lot of that, but it all took effort.

We couldn’t find any data on how many users you have already acquired. Is this info public, would you like to disclose it?

We actually just launched the cloud version of our product, so we’re monitoring that metric carefully and trying to optimize it. Because of that, it’s probably too early to discuss those numbers. With that said, we do have several different financial institutions trialing our platform and are even working closely with a couple of them to implement the enterprise version of our product.

How did you acquire your first user?

If we’re talking specifically about our data science platform for everyone (which is actually our second product – the first one we tried had low traction), then we got beta testers to start using it. These were either folks within our own network that work in finance, or folks that represented larger institutions that we sold into.

Would you do anything differently if you had to start over? If yes, why? If no, why?

I think every startup is a learning process and everyone basically goes through a long journey of making mistakes and finding wins. There are definitely things I’d do differently if I knew what I know now – i.e. doing a better job of sizing the market for our first product, more quickly identifying the key problems we wanted to solve, moving more quickly to build out a beta product. But I don’t regret any of the mistakes I made because I made them with my best efforts using the knowledge I had at the time.

What is your vision for Apteo? Where do you want to be 3 years down the line and 5 years down the line?

I’ve always believed that decisions could be significantly improved by incorporating data. In the long run, whether it’s 3 years, or 5 years, or longer, I see Apteo as the central hub for all things data within an organization, and perhaps, even on the Internet.

We have the opportunity to create a platform that can not only centralize and organize the world’s data, but that can also provide great decision-making and analytical tools to everyone, not just data scientists or engineers. I envision Apteo turning into a company that provides a platform for anyone to reference and utilize when they’re making a decision.

If you were to be acquired by some company, which would it be? (Ex. Amazon, Google, etc) and why?

In an early-stage startup, you’re always happy to exist another day. Obviously I don’t believe in creating a company with the sole purpose of being acquired. My hope is that we can create such a large and valuable business that one day we do have to think about this, but for now, we’re head’s down focused on solving the core problems that our customers are facing today.

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